When you do a bit of travelling in Europe you come across all sorts of weird and wonderful little cultural differences and Metal is no exception.
There has been a trend in continental Europe for Metal bands with female singers, so much so that it has become looked on as a genre despite how different many of the bands are.
Eleven years ago some Belgian fans put together their own small festival and this has now become an annual event, attended by around 3000 people every year from all over the world. This is despite it being held in Wieze, a town an hour's drive from Brussels without a single hotel in it!
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The opening night of the festival was a short affair with just two acts. Liv Kristine of Leaves' Eyes opened the show with a solo set which seemed to go down well despite being somewhat bland to these ears. The nominal headliner was Eve's Apple which is a project which brings together female artists in Metal and offers support and encouragement.
The plan was for around 20 women to do a set of Metal covers taking turns to sing lead or perform duets and inevitably it was a bit patchy and karaoke in places. The only highlight for me was Stream Of Passion's Marcela Bovio doing a fantastic version of Rainbow's 'Stargazer', an unexpected treat! Mostly though for me the evening was about catching up with friends attending the festival.
Serenity with Charlotte from Delain
Day 2 started unfeasibly early with Magion from Holland at 10:30am who did a pretty good job of getting people to wake up while sounding like a typical symphonic Metal band. I decided breakfast was more important than the next few bands so my next act was Austrian melodic metal band Serenity, who have occasionally used a female singer in the past but now include Clementine Delauney as a permanent member. They sounded really good and the extra voice filled their vocal sounds out in a way that worked really well. A guest slot from Delain's Charlotte Wessels thrilled the crowd too.
I often complain that this festival has too many bands which sound the same so I was amazed by Chaostar from Greece. A side project by a member of metal band Septic Flesh this was mad avante garde classic madness. To be honest it wasn't metal at all and they divided opinion hugely amongst the crowd. However I loved the theatre and drama of it all and that I had no idea what was coming next. Definitely an acquired taste though!
Kobra & The Lotus from Canada took things back to a more mainstream level with their old fashioned hard rock style. They remind me of Chastain for anyone who remembers them but it's all classic Metal style riffs topped by founder Kobra Paige's powerful vocals. I enjoyed the style but maybe some stronger songs are required to take them to the next level.
I took another break and among the three bands I missed was Norway's Leaves' Eyes, a band which many people at the festival loved but I'm no fan. I actually don't really like Delain's cheery pop metal style either but I watched their set as they had a special guest arriving. Charlotte Wessels has become a very confident front woman and the crowd loved Delain's set but for me the two songs performed with Sharon Den Adel of Within Temptation were the best part by a long way.
Kobra And The Lotus
Headliners Lacuna Coil closed the show and included the whole of their album 'Karmacodes' in their set. They seemed to go down well but I'm not convinced that they really command a stage like a headliner should. Having both singers dressed in school outfits seemed a bit strange too!
Day 3 started early but none of the first few bands really grabbed my attention. Hell City from Belgium tried hard and had a very sexy singer but their hard rock seemed songless. Crimfall from Finland tried hard but their Viking style battle Metal took a while to warm up and suffered from a lack of punch to the guitar sound. Their final epic ballad was impressive though.
Delain With Sharon
Things picked up several levels after that with the entrance of Holland's Stream Of Passion. Their Mexican singer Marcela Bovio gave what to me was the best vocal performance of the weekend and the band were on fire, loving the big stage and commanding it at the same time. When you can get the crowd to sing along to a new song not recorded yet you're doing well!
The challenge was to follow that but Anneke Van Giersbergen was up to it. Another slightly controversial addition to the bill as you wouldn't describe her solo stuff as metal but she smartly picked her rockier solo tunes and some songs from her time with The Gathering. Her effervescent personality and soaring pitch perfect vocals charmed the crowd effortlessly. Another great performance.
Floor Jansen's Revamp were up next and while I was surprised how much I liked the new album 'Wild Card' I found it hard to warm to live after being totally blown away by the previous two acts. Vocally it was flawless but I think Floor better look at Nightwish as her main gig now as I'm not sure how big Revamp can become on this showing.
The final act of the weekend was ex-Nightwish frontwoman Tarja, an icon at this festival and the act which pulled the biggest crowd of the weekend. I'm not a huge fan but I like the typically Finnish madness of it all with a cello player with an effects board and a riser on the stage and the huge drumkit set up side on.
Stream Of Passion
Tarja herself flounces around the stage sounding extremely operatic and enjoying the attention of an adoring public but again it left me cold so I left the crowd to enjoy it and went and said some goodbyes. I didn't even return in time to see the festival ending duet between Tarja and Floor!
If the kind of bill that this festival puts together interests you I would recommend it. It's small and friendly and not very expensive and many people go every year. It's a totally different world from Download etc though and whether it's your kind of event might depend on your thoughts on the genre overall and how different you like your festivals.